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Stomach Bug Easily Passed Among Pro Sports Teams: Report

MONDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Certain factors unique to professional sports can increase the risk of outbreaks of highly contagious norovirus among teams and their staff, a new report suggests.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis (often referred to as stomach flu) and causes 21 million cases of illness in the United States each year.

The report, published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, describes a norovirus outbreak involving as many as 13 National Basketball Association teams in 11 states that occurred in November and December 2010. It's the first report of a norovirus outbreak in a professional sports league, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

"We confirmed that norovirus spread within at least one team and possibly from one team to another," researcher Dr. Rishi Desai said in a news release from the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "Overall, 21 players and three staff from 13 teams were affected."

Demanding schedules and close interaction between athletes and team staff put them at increased risk for norovirus infection, the authors pointed out. Athletes and staff spend a lot of time together in closed spaces such as airplanes, buses, locker rooms and on the court, and in such settings, norovirus can spread easily and quickly through the air and on objects and surfaces where it can remain infectious for days or weeks, the CDC researchers explained.

The report outlined a number of ways that sports teams can limit norovirus transmission:

  • Keep ill athletes away from playing areas during games and practice. Those who are feeling ill should avoid contact with other players and staff for 24 to 72 hours.
  • Maintain strict personal hygiene, including hand washing with soap and water.
  • Disinfect common spaces with a sodium hypochlorite solution.
  • Report all norovirus cases immediately.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about norovirus.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Infectious Diseases Society of America, news release, Oct. 31, 2011

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